Ian Rankin - The Black Book

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“Life is a rainbow which also includes black.”

Feb 1, 2002 (Updated Mar 5, 2002)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Real factual environment. Plot twists and turns.

Cons:Story lacks a little in credibility

The Bottom Line: More of a crime thriller than mystery, it’s an interesting addition to the Rebus series, with a plot structure of immense proportions. Requires high attentative resources.


The following is a review from Ian Rankinís Rebus Series, of about 13 novels (at time of reviewing.) Inspector John Rebus is an erstwhile detective, notorious for bending the rules, drinking, womanising and generally getting on everyoneís wick. But for all his faults, there is an awe of wonder about him that makes him really likeable. Perhaps itís his dogged determination to get at the truth, whatever the cost. ĎSucked into the machine that is modern Scotland,í Rebus has to tackle with the likes of murder and corruption and confront the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice.

Please refer to some of my other Rebus book reviews, particularly that of the first Rebus Book to build up my definition of his profile.




The Black Book

The Black Book is the fifth instalment in the Rebus series. Of all the others thus far, this one provides the most profound illusion of longevity. It just never seems to want to end from the word go. Rankin wants to stick real close to the reader on this one, and I think he succeeds in the objective he wishes to convey. Of all the books so far, this one also seems to highlight the small point Iíve said about the Rebus series time and time again. What is that I hear you say? It is the subject of reading the books in sequence. Make no mistake, you can read this book off hand if you wish, but it would be oh so much better if you read this one after having read the previous ones. The reason being that, Rebus visits so many ghosts from the past it really would help in both the understanding and recreative aspect to have familiarised yourself with them in the preceding books. Letís have a little look at the plot presented.

Synopsis

The opening of the book, shows a rather cloak and dagger affair of pitching a body over the side of a cliff into the ravenous sea below. Rather symbolic of the story ahead, it indicates Rebusís discontent with the overall environment and the case heís on. What ignites the plot is the assault of DS Holmes. At the back of a rather swanky Elvis style cafť, he gets brained and as a result ends up with a concussion in the local infirmary. Subsequently Rebus discovers the ĎBlack Book.í This is a small leather-bound diary-type affair that Holmes has the habit of carrying around with him. In it is a short-hand of all the rumours and tales relating to criminal injustices and activities Holmes has picked up on the job.

But this time Holmes may have bitten off more than he can chew in pursuing an old unsolved case. Rebus starts to follow where Holmes left off, and pretty soon Michael, Rebusís brother is found hanging upside down of a bridge with tape over his mouth and his hands tied behind his back. Itís an experience which leaves Michael quivering like a jelly for the rest of the book. As a warning message to Rebus from someone out there Ė he knows he must be getting close to something. Undeterred he goes full throttle and unofficially into the case making it a very personal affair.

It all surrounds the fire at the ĎCentral Hotel,í fives years ago. Once of aristocratic proportions, it later degenerated into the lowest, sleaziest establishment in the whole of Edinburgh. The fire destroyed the building, but what drew the police into it at the time was the discovery of a body in a first floor room with a bullet through the heart. Nothing is known about this mysterious body at all. But as Rebus digs up the dirt of the case, he alerts more and more people in Ďhigherí places who want the case buried and forgotten. Soon, an adversary of conspiratorial proportions is up against Rebus, trying to ensure the past is forgotten. It doesnít take long for Rebus to realise his very own life is very much at stake.


The Rebus Machine

Set firmly into the mould that is Rebus, Rankin has become even bolder with the plot structure and trials and tribulations Rebus must add to his repertoire of previous experiences. The environment around Rebus really is metaphorical of the journey through the case. Patience has officially thrown Rebus out of her house, he having taken one too many liberties. Anyway, he has to kip on his own sofa, the place already having been let out to four students. As well as this, Michael is back and put up into the box room. Our familiarity with Rebus in his house with his books and privacy is thus vanquished. Instead we have to hold onto the one thing that makes Rebus what he is, his job; in particular, the case of the Central Hotel.

As a result, Rankin has been really brave with this one. He approaches it from all angles. This time round we have to put an identity to the mysterious death before the killer. It makes sense to know who has been killed in order to find the killer. So starts Rebusís journey based on hunches, instincts and lucky encounters (very lucky sometimes). The answer lies in trying to reconstruct what happened in that room five years ago. There was a game of poker, before the man was shot; we are afforded that much knowledge. The trick is for Rebus to track down all the members of that game.

Although the plot this time round was very thoroughly done, with an explanation to the events from almost every slant, it still missed a vital something. The read wasnít empty but I did occasionally sigh from the immensity of it all. Rebusís encounters really were stretched to the limit and I found myself thinking, can all this really happen? This is an important question as one of the attractions to the series is the damned reality of it all. To contend with this rigidity there was the added pressure of the longevity of the book. The central drive was to discover who it was that died, but at times my mind wondered. There were so many sub plots that came together in the end as intrinsically related, it was mind boggling.

What kept me alive undoubtedly was my addiction to the character of Rebus. There is such a regular witty repartee between Rebus and his superiors (and the lower officers) that I just couldnít help laughing. Of particular note I think is the introduction of the character of Siobhan Clarke. She reminds me of Holmes when he was a DC. A DC herself, itís quite nice to see her enthusiasm in the case and in particular her developing loyalty and usefulness to Rebus.

I think this book was more of a training ground for the development of some other key characters that Rebus himself. DS Holmes and his relationship to Nell receives a blow since she kicks him out. Rebusís continual attempts to reconcile his problems with Patience are also stretched to the limit. There is an overall sense that Rankin is increasing the size of the picture, spreading it further so that the whole experience increases in credibility. This ties in with the fact that the environment is now very real. St. Leonardís is a real police station and so are the pubs that Rebus visits in order to convalesce any information he can on the case.

Conclusions

I think the book may prove to be a very big mouthful for most people. But I also think youíll all pull through. From the point your own theories start to reach fruition, youíll read till the explanation is given. And true to the plot structure and genre in general, the activities of the night the central is burned down are relived. Everything falls in place and Rebus has a chance at proving his tenacity by setting up a lure to catch the perpetrators. His ruthlessness is also severely emphasised with his treatment of a certain Mr McPhail and Nell, Holmesís girlfriend.

Itís a dark little tale that further refines the series but also tests the loyalty of the reader to its fullest extent.

© 2002
Anjum_Naweed


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